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This well-written treatise presents the ambiguity surrounding the place of women in Southern Baptist life that has persisted throughout the twentieth century to this day. Laine Scales astutely uses the history of the Women's Missionary Union Training School for Christian Workers as evidence of the uncertainty and confusion regarding Southern Baptist women's role in the church. The book focuses on the formative years of the Training School which was established in 1907. The story expounds an important piece of the history of social work education in a religious setting from a denominational perspective. As the text implies, the differences between secular and church social work, although subtle, are substantive. Scales describes how women's lives are integrally connected and subsequently directed by the larger social and denominational milieu of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The story of the Training School is situated within a broader context so that the influential factors making its history both unique and informative are taken into account. These factors include the "myth of the Southern lady," the feminist movement during the turn-of-the-century, the nascent missionary activities of the Southern Baptist denomination, and the developing social work profession. The adept integration of this multitude of factors strengthens the text and makes it appropriate reading for scholars and students in several disciplines such as women studies, social work, history, higher education, home economics and religious studies.
The history of Southern Baptist women's long struggle to organize reveals the resistance of many Southern Baptists to women who desired a more significant public role in church life. Paradoxically, the same religious ideology and missionary concern that motivated these women to quietly challenge their prescribed roles was used by their conservative brethren to thwart their attempts to organize.
Through the work of the Training School, Laine Scales points out how the traditional place of Southern Baptist women was subtly challenged. The women who matriculated to the School negotiated their roles as women within the traditionally masculine domains of theological education and church-related work by expanding the domestic sphere (for which they were seen as primarily responsible) to include society and the world beyond their particular household.
Thus, they redefined their roles as mothers and homemakers in such a way as to justify their presence in what most viewed a masculine pursuit. The integration of social work with theological education was instrumental to the redefinition of women's roles as a form of missionary activity
Women, as a part of their studies at The Training School, adopted an approach to evangelism that provided social services to individuals. This approach was tolerated because it steered women away from preaching, an evangelizing activity reserved exclusively for men.
Accordingly, the School's curriculum merged the two philosophies of the Settlement Movement and the Charity Organization Society to create a settlement house based on evangelism which was very different from more secular establishments. "The epilogue offers the reader some insight into the compelling story that continues to unfold around the Training School, eventually renamed the Carver School of Church Social Work, until it was closed in 1996 following controversy between Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the leadership of the Carver School. "So, the gist of the story presents an irony: it seems Southern Baptist women, despite many heroic and innovative exploits in establishing and running the Training School, "still find themselves severely limited by a denominational culture that does not recognize their ability for and calling to types of ministry that lie outside rigidly defined definitions of woman's place of service in the church." (p. 15) Laine Scales, who completed her graduate social work education from the Carver School and is currently a faculty member at Baylor University, is very familiar with the Southern Baptist tradition about which she writes. However, he perspective remains balanced and objective.